By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Judging by record-breaking voter turnout in Wisconsin recent partisan-primary, both voters and candidates got the memo. They’re not only bringing a chair, but they come well prepared to sit at the table with policy makers around the country.
By now many of you have heard different variations of that quote made famous by Shirley Chisholm. A legendary figure in the world of politics, Chisholm was a person of many firsts. In 1968, becoming the first African American woman elected to the US Congress, she talked about how difficult it was to get in the room. Often stating that sexism was more prevalent than racism in her treatment and roadblocks to serving a member of Congress. Undeterred, within three years, Chisholm was the first African-American to run for president and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Her campaign slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed.” The spirit of that slogan, first heard in 1972, is wafting through the air in 2018.
From New York to Wisconsin, we have seen a diverse candidate pool, without many of the connections, lobbyists, and entrenched organizational supports, step up to say their voice is not being represented. It appears communities around the country agree.
In our own backyard, we witnessed historic voter turnout in a partisan primary. Nearly a million voters showed up at the polls, sending a resounding message that they are awoke and paying attention. In addition, there were fresh faces demanding that residents take a hard look at what their representation looked like and how they were being served. That examination brought the historic emergence of a 19-year-old African-American male by the name of Kaylan Haywood, ll. In a crowded field of five candidates for the 16th Assembly seat in the Wisconsin Legislature, this youthful voice rose above the fray.
Capturing the attention of voters young and old, Haywood touched a nerve regarding the continuation of policies written and defined that specifically impacted communities of color, and African-American youth in particular, without them being included at the table. He brought his own chair.
Then there is Dr. LaKeshia Myers, a Milwaukee Public School educator, who stepped up to run in the 12th Assembly District, where she was born and raised. Facing political gatekeepers, Myers utilized “sweat equity” to level the playing field. Knocking on doors for many months, whether freezing temperatures, rain or sweltering heat, this former congressional staffer, took her message directly to voters. With no current African-American women in the state assembly, she was unwillingly to have this strong voting block go unrepresented. She brought her own chair.
So the question for those waiting to be invited, given permission or acceptance to be politically engaged or brought to the table, is quite simply do you have a chair? If not, you can borrow mine.